Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I've given up on Linux

I won't go into great detail about giving up Linux, since this post is mostly about Windows. But suffice it to say that there's just more software available for Windows, and the software is also easier to install and has more features. Linux may be a better OS, but systems exist to run applications, and it's the applications I want, regardless of OS.

But Windows has given me fits in the past, The system gets corrupted by installing and uninstalling software (which I do almost daily). Also, spyware seems to be invincible sometimes, no matter how many removal programs you use. After years of dealing with this, I decided to come up with a plan for a bulletproof install of Windows.

I'm inspired by the IT guys at my office, who do not bother to solve Windows problems anymore (for the most part). We all have the same applications installed on our machines, so if anyone has a problem, the IT guys just ghost a new image onto our hard drive.

"To Ghost" is a term that comes from Norton Ghost, a program that copies the entire hard drive, including boot sectors and formatting, and creates a copy that can be restored on any PC with similar hardware. Unlike a new install of Windows, the newly ghosted computer has Windows plus all of the software installed, and configuration just the way you want it. Restoring the ghosted image is also easier and faster than re-installing the operating system. Plus, you can have disk images of other versions of Windows, so you can try Windows 7 as a full install, and then go back to your old Windows XP environment, just the way you left it. This frees me to install anything I want -- even risky applications -- and still return to my pristine system.

I'm not using Norton Ghost, though. I don't even know if they offer a free version. I'm using Macrium Reflect. Their free version creates a full-disk image. Their non-free version allows backups of individual folders, but I don't need that.

At this point, my entire system can be backed up to a single DVD. I can hang on to my older backup discs, and restore the PC to earlier states if, for instance, I need a clean install of XP without my applications for whatever reason.

To some this may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but I've been using Windows for only about two weeks, and have already restored my system several times. Not that I've had crashes, but it's so easy to restore everything, that I don't bother uninstalling software anymore. I install anything and everything, and see which applications are worth having. Then, rather than allowing them to potentially contaminate my system with leftover Registry clutter, I simply wipe out the hard drive and go back to my ideal system again.

This, of course, erases all the stuff you might want to keep, so it's important to do like they tell us at the office, and never save files to the system drive. Windows is installed on the C: drive, but I save all my files to the D: drive, which is unaffected by the above-described process, and can be backed up separately (use a separate physical drive, not a partition -- just to be safe). I also set the "My Documents" folder to point to the other drive, so now most applications will save there by default.

What I have now is a bulletproof Windows install. There will be further tweaking, to be sure, but I know that every time I make the system a bit more perfect I can create a new ghost image of it so I can preserve what I have, and I can also return to the previous state, should I find that it's not as perfect as I thought.

If you have an older Windows install, and like your apps, you can still use Macrium to back up your old buggy system and then install Windows afresh. If you miss what you had before, go back to it using the Macrium rescue disc.

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